Lord Alderdice’s remarks on the talks process in the north

Lord John Alderdice


    Lord Dubs recently called a debate in the House of Lords on the motion:
    “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take, together with the government of the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland political parties, in reaching and implementing an agreement on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, building on the draft conclusions of the Haass talks.”

Below is Lord Alderdice’s contribution to this debate. Lord Alderdice will be on the panel ‘Why we need to build a pro-agreement axis’ on Tuesday 25 November, 7:30pm, Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, House of Commons, London SW1A OAA. Westminster Tube, public entrance to Portcullis House, Victoria Embankment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing this debate. Given the number of speakers who wish to take the floor, we all have a very short period of time. In a sense that is the important message. All of us in this House who know about Northern Ireland, particularly those of us who live there, wanted to speak tonight because we are worried about the situation. The noble
Lord described it as fragile, even perhaps critical. He is absolutely right about that. The situation is deteriorating politically—not so much in security terms at this point, but politically it is extremely serious.
The problem with the Haass process is that people seem to feel that what we needed was a political agreement or a political fix. But that is not the case. It is not a question of bringing forward yet more proposals. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his colleague Mr Bradley have produced excellent proposals. The problem is not that. It is getting people emotionally as a community to the point where they are prepared to accept them. Although people have signed up for parity of esteem, the truth is that there are many people in the republican and nationalist community who still act as though they were victims rather than as though there were parity of esteem—and there are those in the loyalist and unionist community who act as though they were still dominant, when in fact there is parity of esteem written into the legislation.
The British Government also have a responsibility in this. Devolution did not mean everything and all responsibilities being handed over to people in Northern Ireland. This was a three-stranded process. The British and Irish Governments were the driver for the peace process—making sure that things continued and in the end came to a good conclusion. They retain a responsibility for making sure that it does not all fall to pieces—and, by the way, it is in their interests. If the devolution component of the three strands disappears, we do not end up with direct rule back to Westminster, but with de facto joint authority, with the north-south institutions that are in place remaining in place, but with a responsibility on the part of British Ministers to engage with Irish Ministers. The north-south thing remains with the British-Irish component: so there is a relationship. Indeed, when it comes to security, if those republicans who have engaged in the political process find that it does not work, it will be the most profound encouragement to those republicans who never believed in the political process and will want to return to the pike—perhaps no longer in the thatch, as the noble Lord has referred to.
This is serious. I deeply hope that my noble friend can not just tell me that there is a process under way with the Secretary of State and her opposite number, but show an appreciation of the gravity of the political situation at present. It is serious. If this House does not find a way of encouraging the Government to take it seriously, we will find ourselves back having to deal with some of the really contentious issues that we had desperately hoped were no longer on our plate.